Studying during the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Author: Rebekha Adriana, researcher, Leiden University alumnus

Field site: Rebekha conducted research among the Indonesian diaspora in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, like in other countries, schools and universities have been closed since mid-March 2020 to contain the spread of coronavirus. This unusual circumstance also affects the learning process for all students, including international students who come all the way to the Netherlands to pursue higher education.

A lot of Indonesian students are debating whether they should stay in the Netherlands or return to Indonesia since the universities are closed and classes are online now. Some of their parents want them to return home while some are urged by their universities to stay in the Netherlands since they might open the universities again soon (which will not happen for now, at least until September).

A friend of mine went back to Indonesia in early March for supposedly a month of data collection for her thesis and originally planned to return to the Netherlands afterwards, but her plan was jeopardized after flights were suspended and she decided not to return to the Netherlands. Fortunately, she had finished all her courses and just need to finish her thesis. She shared her frustration and anxiety about how the university was slow to respond and not quite adaptive to the new situation, which drives the students even more anxious.

Adaptation to online learning 

Other students shared their experiences from attending classes at school to attending online classes. Initially, during the first few weeks, she found things to be incredibly stressful and frustrating. Thankfully, the university has been supportive of students. Aside from turning the classes into fully online classes, the university also provides several webinars for students with topics such as how to be productive and dealing with anxiety in corona time, and time management. They also organize online pub quizzes, games, and online Easter egg challenges where students search for hidden clues on a website that would form a sentence.

An Indonesian graduate student joined these activities to ease her corona stress and to connect with other people during this social distancing period. It was difficult to adjust to online learning at first especially with the lack of direct interaction and technical difficulties. She is writing her thesis as well at this time and meetings with supervisors become more difficult since teachers are getting even busier than usual with online teaching preparations and technical problems often get in the way during the meetings.

Compromising the limitation of online education

Another Indonesian student shared her frustration on the shift to online courses.

In the first two weeks, she struggled to adjust to this new routine of online classes instead of going to classes physically. Learning via online video is way more exhausting than attending offline classes, as you need to really concentrate and focus more. Thankfully, the lecturers become more attentive to their students and show understanding for students. Before class, the lecturer asked students personally how they feel and what material they want to focus on for that day. They also taught students how to navigate the online learning platforms.

She is majoring in Psychology, and in this second term, her courses are supposed to focus on practical skills, such as practice counselling sessions with clients and working with several institutions. Amid the pandemic, this has become difficult. Most of the activities are cancelled and readjusted into case studies and group work sessions where students take turns pretending to be clients and counsellors. At first, she was feeling down because of this adjustment as it made her doubt whether she would be really prepared in the future with these case studies instead of actual practices with clients.

But eventually, she accepts the situation now and decides to just make the best out of it, as this also affects every student.

The biggest challenge for her is her thesis since she needed to retrieve data from the lab at the university and she could only discuss thesis with her supervisor via online meeting, which proves to be very difficult when you want to make sure you are referring to the same data during your discussion.

“If we meet in person I can just point my finger to the computer screen when referring to certain data, but it becomes very tricky during online meetings. Several times we are not looking at the same thing.”

Personal reflection

This pandemic has changed education and learning experience, it urges schools to integrate and utilize technology to maximize online learning experiences. Educational institutions also need to provide supports, be it technical or emotional, to their students during this difficult time. Meanwhile, this pandemic also offers easier access to education as many learning platforms are offering free online courses in various subjects. As someone from a developing country, I always see education as a privilege, since not everyone can afford to go to school and pursue higher education. Although it cannot replace formal education, especially education that needs practical experiences, it certainly offers opportunities for people to learn for free. I also make use of free online courses to learn some new skills and knowledge that I did not get the chance to learn during my master’s study.

I am grateful that I had completed my master’s study last year before the pandemic. I majored in anthropology and had to do fieldwork for my thesis, and I just cannot imagine how frustrating it would be if I were a student in this situation. I might not be able to conduct fieldwork and finish my study, and I would be more frustrated since I had paid the tuition fees (which is way more expensive for non-EU international students) but have to compromise for online classes and limited learning experiences instead.